DAERA in the firing line

The Ulster Unionist Party’s agricultural spokesperson, Tom Elliott MLA, has questioned the Department of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs, following widespread concerns about the department’s land inspection practices and fines related to measurement inaccuracies.
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He commented: “DAERA is responsible for various functions, including land inspection. Such inspections by DAERA often involves assessing compliance with agriculture and environmental regulations, such as those related to farm practices, land use, and conservation. Farmers must submit annual returns of the areas used for agricultural purposes. However, the precise measurements that DAERA work to requires very specialised, and expensive measurement equipment.

“In most cases, farmers are therefore forced to refer to previous official DAERA area measurements that provide information about the size and area of their fields for agricultural use, which regrettably may cause some degree of inaccuracy due to encroachment of non agricultural productive species.

“This can make competing benefits between agriculture and environment result with removal of species that are more beneficial to the environment in order to meet DAERA requirements for land use.

UUP MLA Tom Elliott. (Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye)UUP MLA Tom Elliott. (Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye)
UUP MLA Tom Elliott. (Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye)

“There are better and more practical ways of managing agricultural and environmental practices together, instead of imposing significant financial penalties onto farmers when they are doing their best to protect the environment. I am, therefore, urging DAERA to reconsider its position on imposing such severe fines on farmers when reporting land measurements.”

He concluded: “As the financial difficulties of modern-day farming in NI become more pronounced, there is a pressing need for comprehensive support mechanisms from DAERA.

“It’s time to cultivate a supportive system that ensures the continued success of our farmers, to allow good agriculture and environment practices to work side by side without imposing financial penalties, fostering a resilient and thriving future for one of our oldest and most vital industries.”

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Meanwhile, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is calling on DAERA to fix their IT systems urgently as the current issues are preventing farmers and agriculture agents from completing essential forms that must be submitted in line with rigid deadlines.

UFU president David Brown said:

"We have received many complaints from frustrated members informing us that DAERA's IT system is not working to full capacity. This level of service is completely unacceptable. It is creating additional stress and pressure for our farmers.

"DAERA continually expects farmers to work to deadlines, and yet, if the farmer narrowly misses the timescale, they are hit with heavy penalties regardless of the reason why. DAERA's behaviour at present is hypocritical.

“At the very least, Northern Ireland farmers must be given extensions and flexibility for any impending deadlines in line with when the information is available again online.”

Brown continued:

"DAERA have spent millions on this system and yet it is still not fit for purpose. There have been continual problems with NIFAIS since its implementation several months ago. Our members have been extremely patient and have done their best to tolerate what could once be called 'teething problems', but we have long past that point.

"Marts are also having serious difficulties with the new IT system. Delays in entering cattle information into the system are still ongoing for many, making what should be a straightforward task very aggravating.”

The Union president concluded:

"We demand a full explanation on the timescale for getting these IT problems solved urgently, and what procedures DAERA direct offices will implement. In the meantime, we urge farmers who are experiencing issues to visit their local DAERA direct office and demand solutions and better IT service.

“Many farmers received out of office emails when they enquired about the issues which is unacceptable considering how important the online information is to meeting deadlines set by DAERA."